Introduction of Bibby Stockholm Asylum Barge
The Bibby Stockholm is a former North Sea ferry that was converted into a floating housing center for asylum seekers in Sweden. The barge, moored in Stockholm’s Frihamnen port, sparked controversy and debate when it opened in January 2016.
Background on the Migrant Crisis in Sweden
Sweden saw a dramatic increase in asylum applications in 2015, receiving over 160,000 during the height of the European migrant crisis. With accommodation centers filled to capacity, the Swedish Migration Agency struggled to find housing for new arrivals. Using decommissioned ferries was seen as a quick and cost-effective solution.
Why Sweden Took in So Many Migrants
Several factors contributed to the large influx of asylum seekers to Sweden. The country has traditionally had liberal immigration policies. The Swedish economy was doing relatively well compared to other EU countries. Sweden also grants permanent residency to Syrian refugees, which made it an attractive destination. Smugglers and migrants spread rumors that Sweden had an open-door policy.
Scramble for Housing in Late 2015
Existing accommodation centers run by the Migration Agency reached full occupancy in the fall of 2015. The agency hastily arranged additional housing, using tents, ski chalets, and even a vintage cruise ship. Securing the Bibby Stockholm ferry was part of these emergency efforts to shelter new arrivals before winter.
Acquiring and Converting the Bibby Stockholm
Origins of the Vessel
The Bibby Stockholm was built in 1984 and served as a passenger and car ferry operating between Harwich, England and Gothenburg, Sweden. She could carry up to 1,450 passengers and 500 cars on overnight crossings. In 2005, the ship was sold and used for charter cruises under different owners.
Purchase by the Swedish Government
As the migrant crisis escalated, the Swedish government purchased the Bibby Stockholm for SEK 70 million. The 30-year-old ship was considered ideal for quick conversion into temporary housing for asylum seekers.
From November 2015 to January 2016, builders hastily converted the dated ferry into living quarters. Crew cabins were stripped out and replaced with 374 tiny apartment modules, each with its own bathroom. Common areas included a dining hall, outdoor deck space, and activities center. Security systems, surveillance cameras, and keycard access were installed.
Mixed Welcome Upon Opening
Capacity and Location
When the Bibby Stockholm opened on January 22, 2016, it had a capacity to house 600 residents. The ship was docked at Frihamnen, near downtown Stockholm, next to upscale residential neighborhoods. Some locals felt placing it there was inappropriate.
Supporters Welcomed Innovation
Proponents viewed the floating center as an innovative emergency solution to the migrant housing crisis. The ship offered asylum seekers safe, heated rooms during winter. Officials praised the project for being setup quickly and affordably using available resources.
Opponents Criticized Poor Conditions
Critics argued living conditions on the ship were too cramped and prison-like. Rooms measured just 10 square meters. Hundreds of people had to share limited bathrooms and dining areas. Opponents felt placing refugees in a converted ferry segregated and isolated them from society.
Daily Life and Logistics on the Bibby Stockholm
Tight Quarters but Necessary Aid
For asylum seekers rescued from dangerous journeys, the small rooms on the Bibby Stockholm provided basic security, shelter, and amenities like electricity – a stark contrast from tents or war-torn homelands. The dining hall served simple buffet meals three times a day.
Onsite Services and Activities
The ferry center offered medical clinics, social workers, language classes, and activities for children. Common areas gave residents places to socialize. Transportation was provided to the mainland for appointments. Many residents passed months waiting on their asylum applications.
Operating the unconventional center posed challenges. Bringing supplies and staff on board daily was complicated logistically. The ship’s mechanical systems were aging and prone to unexpected problems requiring repair. Demanding round-the-clock operation and maintenance was expensive.
Eventually a Short-Term Solution
Original 5 Year Plan
The Swedish government originally leased the Bibby Stockholm as temporary housing for 5 years, estimating the migrant crisis would continue for years. But the influx started declining after 2015 as EU policies and border controls tightened.
Closed Ahead of Schedule
With arrivals decreasing, officials determined the Bibby Stockholm was no longer a cost-effective solution. After less than 2 years, the center was closed in November 2017 once residents were transferred to regular accommodations on land.
Future Conversion or Sale Uncertain
After closure as a migrant center, the owners attempted unsuccessfully to sell or charter the Bibby Stockholm. In 2018, plans were announced to possibly rebuild her as a luxury hotel barge. Her fate is still undetermined nearly 5 years after her controversial stay in Stockholm.
Legacy and Impact of the Floating Asylum Center
Stopgap Measure during a Crisis
For all the challenges of housing refugees on a converted ferry, the Bibby Stockholm provided urgently needed shelter during the peak of the migration crisis. She gave asylum seekers a place to stay as Swedish immigration systems were overwhelmed.
Criticism of Emergency Planning
Yet the ad hoc solution also highlighted Sweden’s lack of preparation to handle the sudden influx. Some criticized placing refugees in temporary quarters like the Bibby Stockholm instead of proper accommodation. The barge was an emergency compromise, not a sustainable resettlement plan.
Debate over Refugee Housing Continues
The Bibby Stockholm underscored the complex issue of how best to house asylum seekers. Makeshift facilities can provide immediate relief but may lack dignity and permanence. The uneasy compromise leaves many questions unresolved about humane, equitable solutions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why was a ferry used to house asylum seekers?
With migration surging in 2015, Sweden lacked sufficient housing to accommodate all new refugee arrivals. Purchasing the Bibby Stockholm ferry was an emergency measure to create extra temporary housing quickly and affordably.
What were conditions like on the Bibby Stockholm?
The converted ferry had tight living quarters, with rooms of just 10 square meters. However, residents had basic amenities like private bathrooms, electricity, heat, and access to medical care, social services, and activities.
Why did Sweden take in so many asylum seekers?
Sweden traditionally has had liberal immigration policies. The Swedish economy was faring well compared to the EU. Smugglers spread rumors of an open door. Sweden also grants Syrian refugees permanent residence, which was appealing.
How long was the Bibby Stockholm used to house refugees?
The Swedish government originally leased the Bibby Stockholm for 5 years as temporary emergency housing starting in January 2016. But the center closed after less than 2 years in November 2017 as migrant arrivals decreased.
What happened to the Bibby Stockholm after the asylum center closed?
After closure as a housing center in 2017, the owners unsuccessfully tried to sell or charter the Bibby Stockholm. In 2018, plans were announced to possibly rebuild her as a hotel, but her fate is still undetermined.